Kaduna Attacks: Embassies, Int’l Organisations Cut Off North West
EMERGENCY DIGEST- Foreign missions in Nigeria and other international bodies have tightened up security alerts for travels in the seven states making up the North West geopolitical zone following last month’s attack on a passenger train arriving Kaduna from Abuja, the Nigerian capital, Daily Trust can report.
Multiple diplomatic sources and staff of international organisations in Abuja told Daily Trust that though there had been travel advisories to states like Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna, the alert level was upped across most embassies and other organisations over heightened fear of insecurity.
Foreign missions such as those of the United Kingdom, Canada, United States and a host of other countries have directed their staff to avoid travel to the area. A similar ban is also placed by organisations such as United Nations, USAID, UNICEF, among others.
Daily Trust gathered that the latest decisions were predicated on the recent attack on Kaduna International Airport, which was followed closely by the bombing of the Abuja-Kaduna train and attack on commuters and soldiers on guard duty along the Abuja-Kaduna Highway.
Gunmen on motorcycles on March 26 attacked the Kaduna Airport as a Lagos-bound plane was taxing to take off, killing one staff of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA). Security operatives later said they killed 12 of the attackers.
Two days later, on March 28, an explosive was remotely detonated as a train arriving from Abuja neared its final stop at Rigasa, Kaduna State. Gunmen then opened fire on confused passengers killing at least eight and wounding 26 others, according to official figures. An unspecified number of travellers was also abducted by the attackers.
Some gunmen, believed to be among the assailants also attacked a military checkpoint on the Abuja-Kaduna Highway, around Tafa, killing six soldiers. The highway was also reportedly blocked by gunmen two days later, leading to a scare among travellers. But the Kaduna State Government said the gunmen sighted on the road were fleeing a military chase.
Three days later, the Anguwar Maji area of Jere, a major town along the highway, was attacked overnight, leading to the abduction of 12 persons.
Embassies, others ban trips
Daily Trust gathered that enforcement of stricter travel advisories by embassies began last year following a mine attack on the Abuja-Kaduna train in October and subsequent abductions of travellers along the highway for four consecutive days, in November.
The sporadic incidents last month have led to a renewed review of travel advisories and enforcement of travel bans by foreign missions, organisations and big businesses.
A senior diplomat with a North American country told Daily Trust last week that her mission has up-scaled the alert level in the aftermath of the attacks dotting the last days of March.
“We cannot travel to the region again because Kaduna is the gateway. Even if one is flying to say Kano or Sokoto the protocol would have to go ahead with the car. Now we cannot risk anyone travelling through Kaduna,” she said.
According to her, it is now safer for diplomats to travel to Maiduguri than to the North West as going to the Borno State capital would not require sending an advanced party.
“We have cars and, in some cases, protocol staff that a lot of us can use in Maiduguri, but in a place like Sokoto, there is no vehicle for one to use, so we just have to suspend such travels, for now”.
Another embassy official with a European country said the attack on the Kaduna Airport also sent a bad signal about travel in the area, making her own mission to put travels on hold. She described attacks on airports as “significant for our risk management plans.
“It’s getting very difficult for us to travel in several states now. Our travel advice has changed to red for Kaduna, Katsina and Zamfara,” the official stated.
A USAID staff, who spoke on the condition of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak, also confirmed that the organisation has drawn down on travels to the North West states for lack of “guaranteed security cover”.
Another source at UNICEF said: “Any mission in Kaduna, Zamfara and Katsina is no longer authorized at the moment.”
41 women, 22 men, 5 kids held by Kaduna train attackers
Meanwhile, sixty eight persons are said to be in the hands of the terrorist group that abducted travellers from the scene of the March 28 train attack.
Managing Director of the Bank of Agriculture (BOA), Mr Alwan Hassan, who was released by the group on Wednesday provided the figures while recounting his ordeals.
He said most of the abducted persons were women reporting that 41 women, 22 men and five children were with the assailants.
Hassan, Daily Trust gathered, provided details of the abductees and his own ordeal in the hands of the kidnappers in separate briefings to family members, the Kaduna State governor, Nasir El-Rufai, and relatives of other abductees.
While Hassan received sympathisers, including members of the victims’ families at his home in Kaduna metropolis, Daily Trust learnt that visited El-Rufai at the Government House on Thursday.
Attempt by Daily Trust to hear directly from him was, however, unsuccessful as he declined an immediate interview when our reporters visited his home on Friday.
But a family member of one of the abducted persons said the BOA managing director told them that the victims were made to trek for five days, resting intermittently in transit camps, before they arrive at the main camp of the attackers around Shiroro Local Government Area in Niger State.
He was said to have identified many of the captives by name from the pictures presented by their families, saying however some of the abductees suffered gunshot wounds.
Hassan assured the visiting family members that all the captives were doing fine as all the wounded were treated by medics brought by the attackers.
The only case of harassment, he said, was on the day the main leader of the group came to see them and ordered that they all be given ten strokes of the cane saying they were looking too comfortable.
When he was to be released, Hassan told his visitors, the kidnappers gave him detergent and ordered him to take bath with it and wash his clothes. He said he later understood why they made him to appear clean after they took him to a place, three hours from the camp by foot where they shot the now-viral video of him and some of the gunmen.
The bank chief however said that the abductors appeared to be members of Boko Haram or other Islamists groups as they observed strict Islamic codes in the camps, banning smoking and other vices.
VIPs, expatriates among captives; families jittery over kidnappers’ silence
Daily Trust gathered that among the persons still in custody are many high profile personalities and family members of important persons who are either travelling to Kaduna or returning home from Abuja trips.
Reports in the aftermath of the attack had it that the attackers specifically targeted the business class coach of the train, opening fire and abducting many.
Among the captives, Daily Trust gathered are an unspecified number of expatriates.
A short video clip circulated last night showed representatives of the captives, including the BOA MD appealing to government to intervene and secure their release.
Family members at the weekend were still worried over the fate of their loved ones as the abductors were yet to make contact for ransom demands.
In the video, they shot while releasing the BOA MD a masked gunmen demanded that government get across to them to negotiate the hostage release claiming that the government was aware of their demands.
It was unclear, as of the time of filing this report, if the government had waded in but observers say it is likely for the federal government to get involved in view of the calibre of persons in captivity.
Helicopter, soldiers, policemen takeover Kaduna-Abuja highway
Meanwhile, there has been a massive deployment of security personnel including a helicopter carrying out surveillance along the Kaduna-Abuja highway in the past few days.
A Daily Trust reporter who plied the road on Friday observed that security agents including members of the Special Forces Team of the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian Army were stationed at strategic locations along the highway.
The recent measures, Daily Trust gathered were aimed at boosting security along the road, which links the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Kaduna in the North West after the recent terrorist attack on the Kaduna-Abuja.
Since the attack on the train, our correspondent reports that motorists have expressed safety concerns on plying the highway due to reported cases of abductions on the road.
However, while plying the highway on Friday, Daily Trust observed a high presence of security patrol vehicles and sighted a helicopter on surveillance around Akilibu and Rijana area. From Sabon Gayan village to Olam, Angwar Barde, Audujamgwam, Rijana and Akilibu, our correspondent sighted armed soldiers and policemen in their vehicles while others were seen patrolling the busy highway.
It was observed that some commercial and private vehicles travelling either to Abuja or returning to Kaduna were driving behind the security vehicles for safety.
At Sabon Gayan village, armed members of the National Drug Law and Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) were sighted carrying out stop and search operations while members of vigilante were also sighted at the Sabon Gayan weekly markets. Our correspondent also sighted armed security personnel escorting VIP convoys.
Also, two Hilux vehicles conveying armed female soldiers were also sighted on the road.
A commercial bus driver who left Abuja in the morning and was heading to Kaduna told Daily Trust that the presence of security agencies on the road had given them confidence.
“We are happy seeing them (security) on the road. Even though some of them are accompanying top government officials, their presence on the road is encouraging,” he said.